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Turning Defeat Into Victory

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Turning Defeat Into Victory

Joshua 8: 1-29

Last week we learned there is no failure or mistake that cannot be remedied through the grace of God. Even at Achor, the valley of trouble, we see it can be turned into a door of hope.

F.W. Robertson, the nineteenth-century British Bible teacher, pastor, and scholar, taught for several years at Wake Forest University just before and during the American Civil War. He preached a series of messages in the chapel at Wake Forest just before the Civil War broke out, using the book of Joshua. The central theme of the series was that the issue is not whose side the Lord is on, but whether we are on the Lord’s side, as we saw when Joshua met the Lord face-to-face before the battle of Jericho. In a sermon he preached on August 12, 1849, he made this amazing statement, which ties in beautifully with what we’ll be looking at in chapter 8: "Life, like war, is a series of mistakes, and he is not the best Christian nor the best general who make the fewest false steps. Poor mediocrity may secure that; but he is the best who wins the most splendid victories by the retrieval of mistakes. Forget mistakes; organize victories out of mistakes." Joshua would have agreed, because in chapter 8 he allows the Lord to organize the victory out of his mistakes and failures.

When we have made a mistake and suffered a defeat what we do is now up to us, we can live in that defeat or we can by God’s grace learn from it and go on. Though we should never seek to fail, failure can be a backdoor to success if we are willing to seek the forgiveness of God and deal with our sin in the way that God has prescribed. Five Secrets for Turning Defeats Into Victories.


1. To Turn Defeats Into Victories We Need To Remember That God Never Forsakes His Children No Matter How They Fail Him

Joshua 8:1a  Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…” After we have sinned, the Devil loves to whisper in our ear, “You messed up big time and God can never use you again.” It is at just such a moment in Joshua’s life, following the humiliating defeat, God specifically reminded Joshua of his promise. I am sure that morale in the camp was at an all time low, and Joshua was never more insecure of himself as a leader. It is reassuring to understand that God does not permanently withdraw His blessings when we fail Him.


2. To Turn Defeats Into Victories We Need To Learn to Not Repeat the Same Mistakes

Joshua 8:1b “Take the whole army with you, …” God’s word to Joshua was to use all of the fighting men of Israel, in other words this time take the whole army. Even though the primary cause of defeat at Ai was Achan’s sin, a contributing factor was underestimating the enemy, pride, and presuming upon the power of the Lord.

How often do we get in trouble because we make the same mistake twice? To get on track we need to be willing to listen to God and obey fully.


3. To Turn Defeats Into Victories We May Have To Go Back To The Place Of An Earlier Defeat

Joshua 8:1c-2  “go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”  Joshua is told to again go up and attack Ai. He is to return to the place of defeat and now because they were in a right position with the Lord, God promises to turn the place of defeat into a place of victory.

One thing that Israel had come to understand is that they must have God’s power even for taking the smaller city of Ai. With the power of God even Jericho could be taken and without his power even the seemly insignificant Ai could not be taken. How utterly dependent God’s people are on God’s power for any success!

Not only would there be victory in the place of defeat, but here would be additional reward. Unlike at Jericho, the Lord gave the Israelites permission to take the spoils of Ai for themselves. How ironic to realize that had Achan waited and not allowed himself to be guided by greed and selfishness, he would have been able to take all he wanted and needed when they captured Ai.


4. To Turn Defeats Into Victories We Need To Remember That The Recovery Of Lost Ground Is Always Painful And Costly.

There is no erasing the fact that thirty-six men had lost their lives (7:5) in the humiliating defeat at Ai. But I think that it is neat that God uses the previous defeat as a springboard to victory. Joshua 8:3-8 says,  “So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The LORD your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the LORD has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”

In verses 5 and 6 they are told, “… when they come out against us as at the first, that we shall flee before them. (6) For they will come out after us till we have drawn them from the city, for they will say, ‘They are fleeing before us as at the first.’ The plan as set out by the Lord utilizes the Israelites previous defeat to their advantage. God is able to turn even the humiliating mistakes in my life to my good. Paul assures us in Romans 8:28, that can cause even our mistakes to “… work together for good.” That does not mean that we will not experience the negative effects of our failures, just as Israel did. 36 choice warriors lost their lives because Israel walked outside of the will of God. Furthermore, fear and anxiety gripped the hearts of God’s people. Morale was at a low ebb. But God changed all of that for Israel and He can do it for us too. He can turn our blunders into blessings, our defeats into victories.

But now God used the same strategy that originally brought defeat to Israel to deceive and trap the men of Ai.

Vs.9-13  continues the story,  “Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people. Early the next morning Joshua mustered his men, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 They had the soldiers take up their positions—all those in the camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.

It is never easy to recover lost ground. To win back the lost territory the Israelites are going to have to go all out in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.

According to verses 14 through 22 the plan worked just like clockwork. When the king of Ai saw Israel’s army he took the bait and pursued the Israelites who pretended to retreat in fear as they had done before. This left city of Ai unguarded. At the Lord’s command, Joshua stretched out the javelin in his hand and, with this as a signal, the troops hidden in ambush on the west side ran to the city and set it on fire. This left the men of Ai surrounded with no place to flee for now Joshua and his men with the 5,000 hidden in ambush all turned to fight the men of Ai. The troops of Ai were completely demoralized, when they turn and see their homes burning they suffered two psychological blows; they would realize they had not avenue of escape and that they had little to fight for. In a matter of minutes they went from the euphoria of thinking the enemy was fleeing in terror to the despair of realizing that their loved ones were perishing and that they themselves had no way of escaping.

After killing all Ai’s soldiers, Israel’s army reentered the city and killed all its inhabitants (vs. 23-29). The dead soldiers and citizens totaled 12,000. Plunder was taken from the city as God had said they could do in vs. 2. The city was made a heap of ruins. The victory for Israel was total and complete.


5. To Turn Defeats Into Victories We Need To Remember The Source Of Blessings

Joshua 8:30-35 “hen Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 All Israel, aliens and citizens alike, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing those who carried it—the priests, who were Levites. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.

34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.

Joshua did not celebrate with a victory march or a dazzling banquet. Instead he did a most unusual thing. In obedience to the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 27, Joshua had the people travel some 30 miles to the valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim where he built an altar and carried out a renewal service in recognition that their success was entirely dependant on being obedient to God. It must have been an impressive and moving experience. Curses upon curses if you do not obey God’s law! Blessing upon blessing if you do!

James Boice writes: The Mountains, which are about three thousand feet above sea level or one thousand feet above the valley between them, are quite barren. The valley is often green, and at one place where the mountains come close together there is a natural amphitheater. F. B. Meyer describes it as a place where the mountains are hollowed out “and the limestone stratum is broken into a succession of ledges ‘so as to present the appearance of a series of regular benches.’” It is “a natural amphitheatre … capable of containing a vast audience of people.” This amphitheater was the people’s destination, and it was here that they camped out for the ceremony

Notice three things with me.

1.) At the same time that the law was read revealing the sin the altar was constructed as a solution to the problem of those who hear the law but do not keep it. It was God’s solution to the sin problem.

2.) The altar is not built in the valley between the two mountains, and not on Mt.Gerizim, but on Mt. Ebal from which the curses are read. In other words the altar was for sinners.

3.) The altar is built with natural stones without human workmanship. “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool” (v. 31) It is a denial that human being can add anything at all to salvation.

            Let me close with a story of how one man’s defeat was turned to victory: I shook my head in disbelief. This couldn’t be the right place. After all, I couldn’t possibly be welcome here. I had been given an invitation several times, by several different people, and had finally decided to see what this place was all about. But, this just couldn’t be the right place. Quickly, I glanced down at the invitation that I clutched in my hand. I scanned past the words, "Come as you are. No jacket required." and found the location. Yes, I was at the right place. I peered through the window again and saw a room of people whose faces seemed to glow with joy. All were neatly dressed, adorned in fine garments and appeared strangely clean as they dined at this exquisite restaurant.

Ashamed, I looked down at my own tattered and torn clothing, covered in stains. I was dirty, in fact, filthy. A foul smell seemed to consume me and I couldn’t shake the grime that hung to my body. As I turned around to leave, the words from the invitation seemed to leap out at me..."Come as you are. No jacket required." I decided to give it a shot. Mustering up every bit of courage I could find, I opened the door to this restaurant and walked up to a man standing behind a podium. "Your name, sir?" he asked me with a smile. "Jimmy D. Brown," I mumbled. He didn’t seem to notice the filth that I was covered in and he continued, "Very good, sir. A table is reserved in your name. Would you like to be seated?" I couldn’t believe what I heard! A grin broke out on my face and I said, "Yes, of course!"

He lead me to a table and, sure enough, there was a place card with my name written on it in a deep, dark red. As I browsed the menu, I saw many delightful items listed. There were things like, "peace," "joy," "blessings," "confidence," "assurance,"hope," love," "faith," and "mercy." I realized that this was no ordinary restaurant! I flipped the menu back to the front in order to see where I was ... "God’s Grace," was the name of this place!

The man returned and said, "I recommend the ’Special of the Day’. With it, you are entitled to heaping portions of everything on this menu." You mean, I can have ALL of this! "What is the ’Special of the Day’ I asked with excitement ringing in my voice. "Salvation," was his reply.

"I’ll take it," I practically cried out. A sick, painful ache jerked through my stomach and tears filled my eyes. Between my sobs I said "Mister, look at me. I’m dirty and nasty. I’m unclean and unworthy of such things. I’d love to have all of this, but, but, I just can’t afford it. Undaunted, the man smiled again. "Sir, your check has already been taken care of by that Gentleman over there," he said point to the front of the room. "His Name is Jesus." Turning, I saw a man whose very presence seemed to light the room. He was almost too much to look at. I found myself walking towards Him and in a shaking voice I whispered, "Sir, I’ll wash the dishes or sweep the floors or take out the trash. I’ll do anything I can do to repay you for all of this." He opened His arms and said with a smile, "Son, all of this is yours if you just come unto me. Ask me to clean you up and I will. Ask me to take away the stains and it is done. Ask me to allow you to feast at my table and you will eat.

Remember, the table is reserved in your name. All you must do is accept this gift that I offer you." Astonished, I fell at his feet and said, "Please, Jesus. Please clean up my life. Please change me and sit me at your table and give me this new life." Immediately, I heard the words, "It is finished." I looked down and white robes adorned my squeaky clean body.

Something strange and wonderful had happened. I felt new, like a weight had been lifted and I found myself seated at His table. "The ’Special of the Day’ has been served," the Lord said to me. "Salvation is yours." We sat and talked for a great while and I so enjoyed the time that I spent with Him. He told me, that He would like for me to come back as often as I liked for another helping from God’s Grace. He made it clear that He wanted me to spend as much time with Him as possible. Then as I went back outside into the "real world," He whispered to me softly, "And Lo, I am with you always." And then, He said something to me that I will never forget. He said..."My child, do you see these empty tables throughout this room?" "Yes, Lord. I see them. What do they mean?" I replied. "These are reserved tables...but the individuals whose names are on each placard have not accepted their invitations to dine. Would hand out these invitations to those who have not joined us yet?" Jesus asked. "Of course," I said with excitement as I picked up the invitations." "Go ye therefore into all nations," He said as I turned to leave. I walked into God’s Grace dirty and hungry. Stained in sin. My righteousness as filthy rags. And Jesus cleaned me up. I walked out a brand new man...robed in the white of His righteousness. And so, I’ll keep my promise to my Lord. I’ll go. I’ll share the Gospel... I’ll hand out the invitations. And I’ll start with you. Have you been to God’s Grace? There’s a table reserved in your name, and here’s your invitation... "Come as you are. No special garments required."

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